Veselé Velikonoce*! That is “Happy Easter” in Czech! Easter is a very popular holiday in the Czech Republic. Under the communist regime, Easter was only celebrated as a way to welcome spring. Since 1989, however, Easter has been celebrated as a holy day for the nation’s Christians, but it is also a time when ancient pagan traditions come to light.
KrasliceOne of the most well-known traditions of Czech Easter is the kraslice, or Easter eggs. This tradition dates back to ancient times when eggs were considered to be symbolic of new life and revitalization, and were given as gifts during the spring equinox.
Here kraslice are very intricately decorated, usually by hand. Various methods are used to create these beautiful eggs. It has long been traditional for girls and women to decorate these eggs on Easter Sunday. The kraslice are for sale in many of the Easter markets found all over Prague, but the biggest market is to be found is in Old Town Square. The array of colors and designs is like a beautiful kaleidoscope or a stained glass window. The kraslice are given to the men and boys on Easter Monday, by the women and girls, as a reward for being symbolically “beaten” with the pomlázka.
The PomlázkaThe pomlázka, or whip, is another ancient Easter custom in the Czech Republic. The pomlázka is traditionally made by the men and boys on Easter Monday while the women and girls are making the kraslice. The pomlázka is made from willow branches that are braided together, and tied and decorated at the top end with ribbons of various colors.
The whip is used to symbolically “beat” the women and girls on Easter Monday! The belief behind this practice, from ancient times, is that beating would bring about long life, health, and fertility to the ones who were beaten. There is a similar practice with tomato plants that I’ve heard—beating a tomato plant is supposed to make it yield more tomatoes. Well, that's the theory, anyway.
My Reaction to the Idea of an Easter BeatingBeing from the West, I have been acquainted with our own traditions of decorated Easter eggs since I was a little girl. But, when my husband first told me about the Czech practice of “whipping” the women and girls, and the men expecting to receive a reward for giving the beating, I was completely caught off-guard. I thought Jiří was only teasing me. My next reaction involved my somewhat liberated feminine side becoming outraged that Czech women would let such a practice continue.
My First Easter BeatingMy first visit to the Czech Republic happened in the spring, just at Easter time. That visit I was an eye witness to the Czech “whipping” tradition. We were in Strakonice, where my husband's mother lives. During a walk on Easter Monday a group of young boys suddenly came up to us and began to “beat” me with their whips. It really didn’t hurt…and it was all done in fun. Since I didn’t have any decorated Easter eggs with me, I had to give each of the boys a small coin as a reward for their Easter "beating." I really didn’t mind it at all…it didn’t hurt…and it was very funny to try to get away from those boys and their whips. Plus, with their beating, they were really wishing me to have health and long life. Who could be mad at that!
I would like to wish you all a very Happy Easter, and hope one day you women readers will one day experience the joys of an Easter beating with the pomlázka!
(c) 2008 by Sher Vacik
*Literally translated means "Happy Great Nights."